Blog & Pastor Letters

Who do you say I am?

09-12-2021Weekly ReflectionRev. Wilfred Yinah

Today’s 1st reading (Isa 50:5-9a) a mysterious figure is offered to us. He is a man hit, humiliated, insulted, beaten (vv. 5-6), that God, however, has not abandoned in the hands of the enemy. He glorified him, giving success to his mission and showing everyone that he was a righteous person (vv. 8-9).

It is hard to say if the Prophet was referring to a real man or if he was talking, in a symbolic way, of the people of Israel, destroyed by the violence of the enemy. What is certain is that the early Christians saw in this character the image of their Master, Jesus of Nazareth, rejected by his contemporaries, opposed and defeated by the religious and political leaders of his time, but recognized by God, through the resurrection, as the real winner.

We are called by God to remember – to re-live in the best way we can – the story of Jesus’ Passion, crucifixion and death. We are invited to get into the depths of it all with Jesus; to feel how deep is His emotional pain, even if we can only imagine the breadth of His physical pain. Because we cannot know the power of His sacrifice unless we really know the suffering cost of it.

But underneath every bit of the suffering that is coming Jesus’ way – and the suffering that is coming our way as well (if we allow it to); and underneath the suffering of our own day, the suffering we do, here and now – are God’s words through the Prophet. “The Lord God helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; … Let us stand up together. … It is the Lord God who helps me; ….”

In our 2nd reading St James says, the fruits do not make the tree alive, but the tree that does not bear fruit is as if dead. Even the faith that does not lead to works is dead. The works referred to are not the ritual practices, the worship, the solemn liturgies of the temple. He has already stated that religion “pure and undefiled” is to help the orphans, assist widows in their tribulation (Jas 1:27), in respecting the poor and doing works of mercy (Jas 2:1-13). Today he takes up the theme with a particularly concrete example. If a brother or sister is in need of clothes or food, it is useless to console him/her with small talk, you have to give him/her some help, otherwise the faith that you claim to have is only an illusion.

Today’s gospel reading offers us one of the most profound questions in all of scripture, asked by Jesus to his disciples: “Who do you say that I am?” This is a basic question that I believe all followers of Jesus must answer – and not just once, but at various times in our life: Who do we say that Jesus is? For us, and for our world? When you think about it, every person on this planet believes something about God. But it can vary a great deal. Even we Christians can believe different things about the one God whom we all worship. Not only that, but our understanding of God – our theology – can change over our lifetime. In fact, it should change, as we grow in our faith. But the reason why this question is so very important, I think, is because how we answer this question directly affects how we live out our faith, and how we live out our lives.

Jesus also put His disciples in front of the strict conditions for anyone who wishes to follow him. They are the demands that cannot be mitigated or made more acceptable. They can only be accepted or rejected, but cannot be negotiated. The radical nature of this choice, that does not allow discounts, hesitation or second thoughts, is invoked with three imperatives: “Deny yourself, take up your cross, follow me.” “Deny yourself” is to say, “stop thinking about yourself!”

It is the reversal of the logic of this world. Man has rooted deep in his heart a tendency to “think of himself,” to be at the center of interest, to seek in everything his own advantage and to ignore the others.
One who chooses to follow Christ is called first of all to reject this egoistic withdrawal, to give up making choices, the view of his own advantage.

In Jesus, God has shown he does not belong to himself, but to be the slave of people. The cross is the sign of God’s love and the ultimate gift of self. To carry it behind Jesus means to join him in making oneself available to others, even to martyrdom.

The third imperative, “follow me,” does not mean “take me as a model,” but share my choice, make my project yours, risk your life for love of people, along with me. You’re going to encounter misunderstanding and rejection; you will see your dreams dissolve and all human projects called into question; you will feel like dying, but your destiny will not be the ruin; I do not want to lead you to death, but to true life. However, to reach it, it is necessary that you pass through death (v. 31).